WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc on Tuesday said it has won a $6 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to define the standards that will be used to qualify components made using 3-D printing for use in liquid-fueled rocket engine applications.
The award is part of a larger drive by the U.S. military to end its reliance on Russian-built RD-180 rocket engines now used on the Atlas 5 rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co.
The Air Force plans to award additional, larger contracts for U.S.-developed propulsion systems later this year.
Aerojet said it would draw upon its extensive experience with 3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, to draw up the standards that would be used to qualify 3-D printed rocket engine components for flight.
Aerojet is developing its AR1 engine as an alternative to the RD-180 engine. New rocket engine designs like the AR1 are increasingly using 3-D printing technology because it reduces the amount of time and money required for the engines.
The use of additive manufacturing technology reduces the cost to produce components, shortens build times and provides flexibility to engineers to design components that were once impossible to build using traditional manufacturing techniques.
The contract calls for Aerojet to define the rigorous engineering and inspection processes to be followed when producing and testing 3-D printed components to ensure they meet the stringent requirements of aerospace systems.
In 2014, Aerojet successfully tested an engine made entirely with additive manufacturing that had a thrust of 5,000 pounds. A year later, it used additive manufacturing to replicate the injector of the gas generator used on the Apollo-era F-1 rocket engine to demonstrate that a proven design can be built at a competitive cost without sacrificing performance.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)